Friday, August 31, 2018

How Churches can fail their Struggling Pastors

Photo by Elisey Vavulin on Unsplash

Please forgive me, but I cannot undo my past. Nearly 20 years I spent in the field of industrial relations, brokering peace between employees and managers through my role as a health and safety professional. My job was to advocate for the person who was bullied, to investigate incidents for the truth, and to understand and improve the systems and processes that supported a safe workplace.
My experience in the secular workplace, within industrial relations systems, was with large organisations that were committed to best practice. Whilst the cultures in these workplaces were not perfect, they were certainly workplaces, for the most part, that respected and backed their employees. I would have had a great deal of problem staying with an organisation that couldn’t respect and back their employees. It’s just the way I am. The caveat here is that I have heard plenty of horror stories, and seen a few, but it wasn’t my experience for the greater part. The companies I worked for always seemed to be striving for excellence in the right way.
When I contrast the church workplace with the secular workplace, through all of what I read and know by experience, it still amazes me how woefully struggling pastors can be treated.
When people are below their best
they perform at below their best.
We all perform poorly at some point.
Where’s the support
so we can rise again to our best?
Pastors are people too.
The church could learn a lot from the way that high-reliability organisations operate. For starters, they endeavour to have a Just Culture. That their heartbeat is the mantra ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Culture is everything because everything is consumed culture. And, yes, churches also have their own culture, a kind of DNA that epitomises the way they operate.
It is commonplace industrially for employees to have the security of an Employee Assistance Program. This entitles the employee and their family members to thoroughly confidential psychological support and counselling. I know that policies suggest that there are, by a norm, 3 to 6 visits made. But I know the reality in organisations with an employee-friendly culture. They don’t place such a limit where there is the need for more support.
In fact, my experience with the organisations I’ve worked for is they will do anything reasonably practicable to support an ailing employee. And any employee who had a truly honest relationship with their employer could negotiate anything, because the employer truly wanted the best for the employee.
The employer was investing in not only the worker, but in the mental, social and emotional environment of the worker. It was their moral obligation in understanding the ‘system’ that underpins human factors.
Churches must invest in their pastors,
just as pastors invest in their churches.
The more a church invests in their pastors’ health and well-being,
the more pastors’ will perform acceptably for their church.
It was the same with employees who had alcohol and other drug problems; I helped facilitate programs to augment rehabilitation, and so long as the employee was able to remain honest, there was nothing we would not do to support them. Everything was negotiable. This philosophy underpinned the application of policies that were written.
Now I know that some churches, and probably many, would assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree; to the actual degree of having faith within the relationship that neither is going to be screwed.
I guess, however, there is a possibility that some churches do not, or won’t, or cannot, assist their pastors and paid ministry workers to this degree. Some of the reasons may be very practical. Sometimes it is what it is, and we can’t do anything about it. But I really do wonder if more can’t be done to check in on pastors and paid ministry workers, regarding their health and well-being, to understand their issues, and to give them redress into counselling and other forms of support.
If we can allow an employee in the secular workplace to take time off or to make other reasonable adjustments to their work, or to give them counselling support, and to be on the front foot in checking in on them, to see how they’re going, why can’t we do that in the church for our pastors?
If we can understand when an employee in the secular workplace is maximally stressed, or who is bound up in conflict, or they are unhappy or upset for any logical reason, why can’t we extend this to the church workplace?
If bullying and harassment and mistreatment can happen in the secular workplace, it can happen in the church workplace. I have seen mediation in both workplace settings, and the church, from my experience, has a lot to learn. If there is an issue that requires mediation, so all parties are supported, surely it is incumbent on secular management or church leadership (whatever the context is) to arrange a genuinely independent and skilled person or team to do it. So root causes of conflicts can be established and reconciliation brokered.
Can churches not see that the
working environment for pastors is hazardous?
It is wonderful leadership when churches acknowledge
the health risks that pastors and other ministry workers are exposed to.
It is exemplary leadership when churches commit
to protecting their people in such a hazardous environment.
I think there is an opportunity for the church to understand it is an industrial relations environment, and have policies and systems and procedures to deal with a range of problems, so that pastors feel adequately supported, and churches can feel protected.

I will finish with this. I find it is reprehensible that an ordinary employee might get full and fair support from their employer, and they should, (and I know that many still do not) yet churches are not willing, in many situations, to support their pastors to that same kind of degree.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

What kind of church Welcomes those with Depression?

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Recently I was shocked to hear the news of another young man, a pastor, who had taken his own life, leaving behind a beautiful wife and three gorgeous kids. It is heartbreaking to say the least.
This article could go in many different directions. But I’m choosing the direction that seems to me to be most obvious. The world needs a church where the sick are welcome, and where even the senior leaders are allowed to be sick even in their appointed seasons of ministry.
Why? Because it happens.
The system of church must be able to cope with it,
especially given that the church is a hospital for the sick.
What I talk about here is not physical disease, but the mental, emotional, spiritual maladies that so many of us have been dogged by. I have had three major bouts of depression, I have suffered panic attacks, and I have endured enough grief to understand and accept that suffering is endemic to life.
So why is there a perception that those with depression are not welcome in the church?
Why would there not be the appropriate support and counselling and programmes of training to help sick people? Well, sometimes there are resource constraints.
Part of the reason, perhaps, is that our modern world is so geared around slick and efficient operations, and pastoral leaders feel driven to replicate that in the church.
This perfectionism that can never be satisfied
has become part of modern church culture.
So many young and not-so-young men and women in the church today are under enormous pressure to serve well enough to please the people they serve as well as the church boards they work for.
The church needs to be a place where we can be rewarded for our honesty regarding our weaknesses.
After all, it’s a biblical idea that we receive Christ’s strength when we admit our weakness. The trouble is we live in a day that has forgotten biblical tradition, and that has bought the lie that successful church must be competitive, and that successful ministry must be both effective and founded in excellence. Church is run like a business, competing for its members, with its sales and marketing strategies, instead of simply rooting itself in living out the gospel.
There are many reasons why churches may not embrace the concept of strength-in-weakness within their ministries. Many forces collide. Part of the issue is the intrusion of prosperity, name-it-claim-it, doctrine.
It seems to me that if we are to improve the acceptance of mental health issues like depression in our churches we need to embrace them across the board. What would Jesus have us do? Deny the reality? By no means!
I cannot think of a better way of doing this than one of the pastors or key leaders being completely transparent about a current struggle. Oh, I know that that used to be a no-no. As a pastor you would not share on anything unless you had overcome it. But pastors also need to lead the way in vulnerability which shows humility.
Pastors need to show courage,
ironically in their weakness by being vulnerable,
to encourage others in their weakness.
That sort of example of weakness begins with the pastor!
But churches don’t seem to like their pastors being weak.
This is because we’ve fallen for the lie that leaders are strong.
In many things in life, however, ‘overcoming’ is fanciful, as if we could click our fingers and overcome depression. Anyone who’s been depressed knows that is nonsense. We don’t have that sort of control over this black dog. And this is entirely biblical. The Bible would lead us to the lament psalms, Ecclesiastes, the book of Job, the prophetic writings, and in the New Testament, Second Corinthians, and specifically, that thorn in Paul’s side, among many others. The idea is suffering is central in the Bible. Moses, David, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, the list goes on and on. Can the suffering servant Jesus of Isaiah 45-55 not understand our depression, especially in the light of the cross?
Why is it that pastors need to project the image
that they have it all together?
None of us do…
Their heroes in the Bible didn’t.
There seems to be a system of development for pastors that does not allow much leeway for them to have genuine and ongoing struggles. Like, that kind of weakness counts against them or counts them out. Yet this tradition forgets about some of the best pastors who suffered, like Spurgeon. I know from a writing perspective that I am more deeply connected to God in the words I write when I am struggling. There is a deeper kind of ministry that we may tap into in our depression, so long as we don’t feel overwhelmed by it, and so long as a deeper kind of ministry would be allowed. Acceptance is a powerful economy.
Pastors with depression must be embraced all the more! Pastors who have suffered depression are all the better equipped for ministry. And churches need to wrestle more with how effectively they support people in the darkness. Smoke machines, brewed coffee and stealth-like efficiency make a mockery of the tenets of the church with its own book on suffering.
Churches are complex environments for those who work in them, whether they are paid or volunteers. Those who are paid always put in many more hours than they are paid for, and those who are volunteers give hundreds of hours per year for the love of it.
It would be okay if it was satisfying work, but many times it’s not worth the conflict, or the constant not meeting of the high standards many churches set, and I’m not meaning standards of holiness, but standards of effectiveness. The workplace environment in churches can be more toxic than the comparative workplace environment in secular workplaces. The sense of inadequacy, the conflicts that don’t go away, the pressure from leaders and members, the pressure to lead, and the spiritual warfare that is part of the environment all contribute to the chaos that broods in a pastor or ministry leader and threatens to burn them out in a spirit of despair.
Surely, we could understand that there are a plethora of precursors that predispose people in the church to suffer depression and anxiety-related disorders.
I suggest that the kind of church that accepts and even embraces those with depression, especially those within the ranks of its pastors, is Christ’s church.
Surely it must grieve the Spirit of God that so many pastors, and anyone for that matter, are suffering alone, not to mention the ones that are dying!
Here are some things that the church provided that I found helped me when I suffered depression in ministry:
1.                      Even more so I was embraced within leadership, as the leadership understood that I needed the support of fellowship. When we are feeling weak we need much encouragement, and the best encouragement comes from those who are most mature in the faith. Leaders who are suffering depression must be around leaders who are compassionate and wise.
2.                      There was a culture that embraced both weakness and honesty. Both are needed. We are only strong until we become weak, and it is only a matter of time. When we are weak we need to be honest, and the church must build a culture that demands honesty and provides safety for everything that is disclosed.
3.                      There was a devotion to prayer, which is another way of saying that the ministry of healing is God’s business; that those within the Church understood that clich├ęs and advice had limited or even damaging effect.

4.                      As I shared my burden and my incapacity, I was still allowed to do what I felt I needed to do, but other leaders took on the more onerous responsibilities. This often meant that they would delegate off single tasks to others which was an opportunity to develop them. What I found most encouraging is these other leaders would not make me feel guilty. They simply understood. Churches need to nurture a culture that exemplifies empathy and compassion.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The spiritual gift of peace and grace in silence

In the throne of silence are manifest the perfections of spiritual beauty.
— Miguel de Molinos (c. 1675)
Just as we cannot suppose that achieving spiritual perfection is possible, like all spiritual things these must be tried on, for spirituality is experience. It isn’t a craft to be mastered but practiced.
Ordinarily we could not encapsulate the words spiritual and perfection in the same sentence, as if they were referring to each other, because we cannot make the assumption that we can perfect our spirituality. We cannot come close to perfection in the spiritual realm, but we can come to experience the perfection of spirituality through silence.
Silence is a beautiful thing, whether we are with others and trying to help, or by ourselves, or wrestling with pain we can’t resolve. But silence is inappropriate at times, like when the truth needs to be brought to light for the protection of vulnerable individuals.
But… back on point:
Silence is the secret language of surrender when there is no answer.
Silence is powerfully vocal yet in an obviously inaudible way. Have you ever noticed how people who can keep silent can communicate in such powerful ways? They are able to hold their peace at a time when just about nobody does it. And, of course, there are oracles of wisdom about silence from the ancient book of Proverbs. There have been so many great things written about silence.
Whenever we are overwhelmed in any way our immediate state of spirituality can be improved if we are silent. It may still feel that our head is blowing apart, or that our heart is about to shatter.
Being silent doesn’t silence the pain,
but it does nullify the damage that pain often causes.
What we discuss here are the mystical features of battling spiritually in a spiritual life.
We need to be careful when it comes to discerning spiritually, because, even though we tend to under-discern the spiritual dimensions of life, we easily tip the balance too far the other way, and over spiritualise everything. But silence puts us in a position where we can hear from God. He speaks to our spirit usually in inaudible tones. And He will never speak anything contrary to the Word of God.
Silence when it comes to listening is such a powerful tool for equipping others in their healing. As we positively get out of the way, we allow another person the ability by giving them precious space to speak truths about their experience and perception, perhaps as they utter truths never spoken aloud before. Such a moment has incredible potential and healing power, and I have seen numerous times people come to have a first-in-a-lifetime experience. Just because there was silence.
Our silence gives them the space and time they need.
Take the situation of our personal pain. I have never known the powers of God to be more potent to heal me in my pain than when I was on my knees in silence. To be right, the healing never occurs in the moment, but there is something in experience that leads us to a hope this world cannot provide.
When we can access hope in our pain
we have direct access to our healing.
Silence as a spiritual gift of peace and grace contributes well-being and order to everything. Silence is the destroyer of chaos. Under silence, all chaos that ordinarily overwhelms us is allowed through the power of surrender, and we overwhelm what overwhelms us with peace. It can come only through God, in the name of Jesus.
In Him who could not be corrupted, and who did not suffer corruption, is the power over all evil.
He bequeaths to us this power when we act as peace like He acted as Peace.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Can ‘iron sharpens iron’ become an excuse for abuse?

Photo by Tim Wright on Unsplash

Another goblet of gold from my wife, here. The conversation went this way:
Me: you say that ‘encouragement is sometimes about finding the right time for iron to sharpen iron.’ Does that mean we just need to wait for the right time to give someone a truth they may not like to hear?
Wife: I think it’s more complicated than that. There’s more to be considered. Iron sharpening iron, as a method of encouragement, must be a tremendously complex idea. There’s a stand-alone article in that.
Me: okay. That sounds exciting.
So, here goes:
I think there is a truth to be straddled here. First, there is the biblical truth that iron does sharpen iron; as human beings, we can sharpen one another; and the circumstances of life can sharpen us. It is a great achievement when this happens. But second, we’re only ‘sharpened’ when we’re stretched in a way that is encouraging — and it would be helpful to look at encouragement as that trait of giving others courage, helping them to be brave.
If we’re ‘sharpened’ in such a way that we’re presented with ‘a truth’ when there’s insufficient trust, or the person delivering the sharpening doesn’t discern the right time or method, words or tone, ‘the truth’ doesn’t so much sharpen a person as much as it stabs them.
We’re only sharpened when we’re
stretched in a way we find encouraging.
If anyone were to think, no, that’s being too soft on the person, I would contend that our approach to them from a biblical viewpoint is still not right. We, ourselves, need to look inwardly to determine and be truthful regarding our own motives.
Is not gentleness a fruit of the Holy Spirit
in those that genuinely have God?
Read that sentence again.
Is not gentleness a fruit of the Holy Spirit
in those that genuinely have God?
If we’re truly Christian we’re gentle, or we’re on a journey to gentleness, meaning we repent of it when we’re not. When we’re not gentle, our relationship with God means the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin.
The conviction of our sin is always a good thing.
God is calling us all to a higher wisdom: to do the work of sharpening ourselves and others, according to God’s work in us. We must first allow Him to sharpen us. That’s primary. Our sharpening of others has no credibility if we’re hypocritical purveyors of truth — like, do as I say, not as I do. It doesn’t work.
Too often in the Christian scheme of things we’ve ‘sharpened’ one another without the due care and respect of gentleness. We’ve got it wrong. We’ve fallen short of the glory of God, which is to exemplify self-sacrifice. Then, when we’ve ‘sharpened’ someone ‘for their own good’ we wonder why there’s a stress reaction — I mean post-traumatic stress; the ingredients of PTSD.
What we’ve actually done is not dealt with our own frustration and taken it out on another person. For, there is always a way for speaking gently. (And here I am facing my own hypocrisy for times when people would definitely say I’ve been harsh with them. Thank you, Lord.) What we’ve actually done is polarise a person away from the growth potential we saw in them. We’ve defeated God’s purposes.
And the person suffers abuse.
A better way is this: always have our sharpening front of view. A true sharpening is a pure encouragement. Leading a penitent life that welcomes our own ugly truth is God’s way of encouraging us. When we do this well we naturally curate trust in relationships, because people feel safe with someone who has the courage to see their own fault first.
When we learn this, we have more capacity to encourage others, genuinely, because the sharpening is coming from a core that believes ‘I need sharpening, first, before I can see how to sharpen another.’
Again and again, here it is, Jesus’ own words in red in Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV):
1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Let our gauge for encouraging another be their reaction. If another person doesn’t feel encouraged, ultimately, after we have both reflected over what was done and how it was done, we haven’t done it right.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The journey full of doubt

‘Just keep being faithful,’ my wife has often said, from the earliest days when I started writing, 11 years and 7,000 articles ago. It has been a tumultuous journey with many highs and just as many lows.
The truth is this journey has been so full of doubt as to require faith. The more doubt, the more faith. Praise God for His portion.
Let me say this: as often as I’ve inspired people through the things I’ve written, I have disappointed and betrayed and let down just as many.
I have written some good things, but there are many things I’ve written that have fallen short of the glory of God. Perhaps not in the words themselves, but in the motives behind why they were written. I’ve always sought to write what is relevant, engaging, and ultimately loving and true. But occasionally I’ve missed the mark and cloaked nastiness in love and truth.
There are dozens that I know of over those 4,000 days that have shaken the dust off their feet when it comes to what I’ve written. If there are dozens that I know of, what is the number under the waterline?
I do want to be unifying and not divisive, but so often I’ve painted myself into one corner.
I’ve written an average of one to two (closer to two) articles every day over those 11 years, always believing it was God’s call for my life. Not everyone gets it. Many are ambivalent at best, and one of my inherent weaknesses — especially when I’m weak — is I desire encouragement. Charles Wesley published over 6,000 hymns. When I realised I could be, I wanted to be just as prolific, not that I esteem myself in his class. God is the Judge.
Too many times I’ve taken ambivalence to heart, but it’s never ultimately knocked me off course — except for a three-month period last year when I was so down on this ‘call’ I refused God and stopped. God did a work in me to get me started again, for, to my shame, humanity’s voice was louder than His. I tried to stop earlier this year, feeling that the whole idea was so foolish, that I wasn’t doing it for the right reason, yet by the seven-day mark God told me to write and to publish, because I felt He honoured the fact that I was being honest about my struggle.
My writing has frequently gotten me into trouble. It’s a very conspicuous ministry. So often people can think I’m writing about them when I’m probably genuinely not. Bit like the preacher who is not preaching about you, but you think he or she is! He or she generally isn’t, and usually doesn’t have a clue. It’s the mastery of the Holy Spirit at work.
There have been exceptions, however, when I have sinned and written about something I shouldn’t have — usually out of processing something inappropriately. In the early days I hurt my wife. I have hurt people I’ve worked with, and those I know, whether they approached me or confronted me or not. I have occasionally fallen short of my wife’s clarion call to just keep being faithful. My heart is I want to be forgiven, but I accept there are some bridges I’ve incinerated.
The journey of this writing ministry is etched in doubt that facilitates faith.
I feel that in sharing, I’ve poured myself out and made myself vulnerable — to pour contempt on my pride of self-protection — but some don’t and won’t understand, so it’s sometimes been lonely, and given the 10,000 or so hours that it has taken to write all those words, ‘sometimes’ has been a pretty regular occurrence.
Still, God I’m sure has sanctified me throughout. I sure do hope He will be gentle with me when I’m judged regarding what I’ve written, but I’m sure you can read more of the feeble man in that than the man of God.
All I can do is follow the call I believe God has placed on my life. It’s been far costlier than I ever imagined it would be. And yet I’ve been rewarded unimaginably — yet not with a cent as yet.
I do wonder how many other ‘ministers’ genuinely and frequently doubt their call of God; a thing most certain that I cannot not do His bidding, but it’s pretty much in fear and trembling[1] all the way.
All I can do is just keep being faithful. Thank you for reading if you’ve read all these sentences.


[1] Philippians 2:12.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A front and rear guard for the heart

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


I awoke as I normally do with the thought, what will I speak on today, and what will I write? Sometimes I already have the idea, but not this day. And then I read Acts chapter 14, and I see two words that summarise what Paul and the brothers were up against on that first missionary journey.
First I see the opposition that they faced. The second thing I see is the flattery they encounter. Two completely opposite, and yet equally dangerous spirits, but both replete with opportunity.
I have been pondering Proverbs 4:23 for some time. It says words to the effect, ‘Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life.’
So, in the context of guarding your heart there is a need to guard against the frontal assault of opposition and the rear assault of flattery.
The front guard for the heart
It is amazing that Paul and the brothers committed to staying a long time in the place where they faced so much opposition. We are tempted to run from opposition, either for fear or simply that we don’t want to waste our time. Opposition is frustrating, annoying, and anxiety producing. But it is in opposition that we have one of the two best opportunities to share the true gospel. (The other best opportunity is when hearts are ripe and ready to receive the goodness of God and His grace.) But the best opportunity in opposition is to prove the power of the gospel by putting on the front guard to protect one’s heart.
When we put this front guard on, we anticipate the opposition, which is to expect it, and not be anxious about it, but be committed to doing everything we can to live peaceably in the opposition as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18). I’ll never forget my eldest daughter starting work at the local Chinese restaurant, when she was 15, and the opposition she faced from the brusque female manager. She was so discouraging to her at the time. But I kept encouraging her to do her best and have faith that she could win her manager over with her character. It took two years, but when she left that employment, her and her manager had an excellent, trusting rapport, and the manager even sought my daughter out for help with her English. Persistence pays in relationships. If we keep showing up, refusing to become despondent, endeavouring to keep serving this other person who is in opposition to us, we can have influence. But we need to put this front guard on. We need to guard our heart so the opposition we face doesn’t undermine and threaten to destroy us.
The rear guard for the heart
Well, if we thought opposition was the worst spirit with which to contend, think again. Flattery is a doozy. I’m not sure if there’s anything worse than flattery, because there is always something underhanded behind it. There is a big difference between encouraging someone, being kind and gracious, and the shameless flattery we receive when someone is clearly trying to sell us something.
The problem with flattery is what is attached to it. Flattery comes with strings attached, or it seeks to deceive in order to win its way into our heart. Of course, the narcissist uses flattery with much charm in the initial stages of a relationship, and their winsomeness continues to woo all the unsuspecting. None of us like to be suspicious. But there are behaviours, and flattery is one of them, that we need to be on guard about.
We need the rear guard for the heart in situations of flattery. Either we are being sold something, and that something when flattery is used is never good for us, or there is the equal and opposite angle about to come at us, which is the most stringent opposition, in the form of a kind of borderline personality disorder, love-then-hate, response.
***

Wisdom advises two guards for the heart. One for the front: to protect our heart when we’re opposed, so we keep our love on, and the other for the rear: for when the deception of flattery is used against us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What you’re communicating when you’re not communicating

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

There is a bizarre phenomenon in the realm of existence, and this rule applies in every area of life.
There is something that goes on, even beyond humanity, to the birds in the skies, the animals over the ground, to the creatures in the sea, even to plant life. Something links at all, and that something is communication.
Our very being here,
bodily and spiritually,
is communication.
We are communicating constantly. Even when we are not communicating we are communicating, for in our non-communicating we communicate perhaps some of the most powerful messages. These are usually messages of inference and assumption — the promulgation of untruth.
In our humanity, silence, for one instance, communicates volumes. It can communicate exclusion, derision, abandonment, the fact that there is no relationship, and it can suggest even love, but not usually. We normally associate silence with something negative.
We are still communicating
when we’re not communicating.
When we break connection we often force people to either second-guess our relationship with them, or our motives, or we get them to question the very future that we might share together, or not, as the case may be.
And yet, we may have decided for good reason to break connection. Perhaps there’s been a toxic relationship formed that we need release from. The only way to do that is to stop communicating. But it is always nice if we can communicate with clarity what our intentions are, so the other person can commence their grieving. If they continue to beckon for our attention, avoidance is the only way of enforcing a communicated boundary.
Silence often communicates volumes.
This issue gets very practical in our electronic world when we don’t receive replies to the e-mails or the text messages we send. It’s the same when people don’t get a response from us. It’s quite normal for people to think that we have forgotten about them, or that we don’t care, when we don’t respond in a timely fashion, or we don’t respond at all. Perhaps we’ve all thought that, ‘looks like they don’t like me anymore,’ and, ‘what have I done wrong?’
It would be a useful prayer, in our electronic age, to ask God every day:
‘Lord, show me what I’m communicating
negatively through failing to communicate.’
‘Lord, reveal to me what I’m communicating
through my silence.’
‘Lord, help me to know, also, how to keep my peace
in situations where I ought to be silent.’
‘Lord, give me ways of refraining from speaking
when I ought to remain silent.’
There are times when we don’t communicate out of choice, for good reason, but we should make it clear to the person we’re not communicating with as to why we’re ceasing contact. Say it once and never feel the need to go back.
In other cases, the choice not to communicate is possibly passive aggressiveness. That’s never good. It would be better to have the conversation required to resolve the conflict.
In some other cases, it just so happens we’re distracted, like the photo suggests, by myriad other abstractions.
Sometimes technology takes the focus
that human beings ought to occupy.
We have the opportunity to reflect how much technology replaces real communication; that our reticence to connect, because we’re so ‘plugged in’ to our device, speaks in deafening tones of our relational ambivalence. And this occurs in familial relationships as much as anywhere.

In not communicating, we’re often communicating
a message we should not wish to communicate.

Monday, August 20, 2018

More than conquerors, what, without even trying?

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash
There they were, the praying people of the church, praying up a storm, exhorting God because they knew He liked it. They were saying things like, ‘We will claim this and that and it will be ours!’ And, ‘All this is ours because we believe in Jesus, and because we believe in Jesus He will give us anything we claim is ours in this Kingdom (of ours)!’
And they believed stoically in their doctrine. They loved it when God answered their prayers, because God answered every prayer of theirs. Because they were special to God; they were exclusive, true, authentic, the best-of-the-best Christians.
They knew they had the anointing, whereas others didn’t; those that suffered needlessly, because for some reason God didn’t answer their prayers. And why did God favour these Christians over the others; well, of course, they weren’t sinners anymore. Obvious, isn’t it?
Somehow God sanctified them to such a degree that their obedience was shining. God was so proud of them. These Christians were powerful Christians. These Christians belonged to churches that grew the fastest, had the most entertaining preachers (I mean, why do churches employ boringly biblical speakers), and had the most altar calls and conversions, slick “processes” for dealing with new people, even the best coffee! They were so strong in evangelism they didn’t even need to bother with discipleship.
These churches knew they had God’s favour because money just kept rolling in and couldn’t their preachers plead a such a convincing case to give — the Holy Spirit convicting them through the preaching, that, with such love, they regularly gave even beyond their means! ‘What more do you want?’ they would say. ‘Now that you have the Kingdom, and because we bless you so much, we can have your money. And, of course, you know that we need it for our highly anointed (i.e. very successful) ministry that reaches the lost on God’s behalf. You know very well that God needs us and we can only do this work if you give to us “sacrificially”. You know that your giving is going well when it begins to hurt and you know that you’ll need to go without. If it’s for God, then it must be right.’
Now, let’s get back to this wrong approach to prayer. I mean, what kind of faith do some Christians have to believe that God doesn’t answer their prayers (i.e. demands) in the affirmative? Don’t they know that they can talk God around? We can, you know!
What do they mean when they say that they suffer well for the gospel? And they have the gall to tell us that the Bible is literally littered with stories of suffering; godly people suffering? It cannot be! No, we have the power of Christ, and that power is ours, now, and all we need to do is claim it in the Name of Jesus — to say to somebody, ‘Be healed!’ and it shall be. We have the anointing!
How is it that these people tell us that they have the real power, and that the real power of Jesus is in powerlessness? It defies logic! How is it that these people pretend to be joyful and at peace, even in their suffering? That’s not a gospel we can believe — it’s far too costly — a “good” God is good, period. These people even seem to be madly able to endure. Doesn’t sound like Christian faith to me.
Why do they “cherry pick” verses like James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 3:14, and why do they continually point us to Corinthians, Job, Lamentations, the lament psalms, Ecclesiastes, etc. I mean, who really believes that considering it pure joy in our suffering is a good idea? Or, blessed are those who suffer? Or, that God gives, but that He also takes away?
How is it that people who claim to be Christian and suffer chronic or terminal illness and continue to believe they are being obedient? And to make matters worse, they even appear to be obedient! They keep saying that they are sinners, that they are not perfect, that no Christian is perfect. Where do they get taught this nonsense? And they keep making such a big deal of humility. Why?
Don’t they know they already have the victory! Don’t they know that Christ didn’t die that we would have to suffer! There is power in the anointing, and you either have the anointing or you don’t. It’s like being a Spirit-filled believer. You either are or you are not. Only the real Christians are Spirit-filled.
And God confirms to our hearts that we are the elect of God.
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Yes, this is satire. This article was brought to you by Matthew 7:21-23.